Chapter 30

Wilsonian Progressivism at Home and Abroad



Woodrow Wilson became the governor of New Jersey by campaigning against trusts and promising to return the state government to the people.


The "Bull Moose" Campaign of 1912

The Democrats chose Woodrow Wilson as their presidential candidate for the election of 1912.  The Democrats saw Wilson as a reformist leader who could beat the Republican party's candidate, Taft.  The Democrats had a strong progressive platform that called for stronger antitrust laws, banking reform, and tariff reductions (New Freedom program). They favored small enterprise, entrepreneurship, and the free functioning of unregulated and unmonopolized markets, but they did not support social-welfare programs that Roosevelt supported.

Theodore Roosevelt ran again in the election as a 3rd party candidate for the Progressive Republican party. Roosevelt ran ran with a New Nationalism program, which supported stronger control of trusts, woman suffrage, and programs of social welfare. 

Both candidates favored a more active government role in economic and social affairs, but they disagreed over specific strategies. 

Roosevelt was shot during the campaign, he recovered after a couple of weeks.


Woodrow Wilson:  A Minority President

Taft and Roosevelt split the Republican votes, giving Woodrow Wilson the presidency.

Roosevelt's Progressive Party died out because it did not have any elected officials in state and local offices.


Wilson:  The Idealist in Politics

Wilson relied on sincerity and moral appeal to attract the public.  He was smart, but he didn't have people skills. Wilson's idealism and sense of moral righteousness made him incredibly stubborn in negotiating.


Wilson Tackles the Tariff

President Wilson was determined to attack "the triple wall of privilege":  the tariff, the banks, and the trusts.

Wilson called a special meeting of Congress in 1913 to address the tariff.  He convinced Congress to pass the Underwood Tariff Bill, which significantly reduced the tariff.  The 16th Amendment was ratified in 1913. This enabled Congress to collect a graduated income tax.


Wilson Battles the Bankers

The most serious problem of the National Banking Act (passed during the Civil War) was the inelasticity of money. In times of financial stress, banking reserves, which were located in New York and other large cities, could not distribute money fast enough into areas of need.

In 1913, Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act.  The new Federal Reserve Board, appointed by the President, oversaw a nationwide system of 12 regional Federal Reserve banks.  Each reserve bank was the central bank for its region.  The final authority of the Federal Reserve Board guaranteed a substantial level of public control.  The board could also issue paper money, called Federal Reserve Notes (the U.S. Dollar).  Because of this, the amount of money in circulation could be increased as needed for the requirements of business.


The President Tames the Trusts

Congress passed the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914.  This law created the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which oversaw industries engaged in interstate commerce. This organization could issue cease-and-desist orders to companies engaged in unfair business tactics.

The Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 lengthened the Sherman Act's list of business practices that were deemed objectionable.  It also sought to exempt labor and agricultural organizations from antitrust prosecution, while legalizing strikes and peaceful picketing.  Union leader Samuel Gompers supported the act.

Wilsonian Progressivism at High Tide

The Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916 made low-interest rate loans available to farmers.  The Warehouse Act of 1916 enabled farmers to take out loans against the value of their staple crops, which were stored in government warehouses.

The La Follette Seamen's Act of 1915 benefited sailors by requiring decent treatment and a living wage on American ships.

President Wilson assisted the workers with the Workingmen's Compensation Act of 1916, giving assistance to federal civil-service employees during periods of disability.  Also in 1916, the President approved an act restricting child labor on products flowing into interstate commerce.  The Adamson Act of 1916 established an 8-hour work day for all employees on trains in interstate commerce.

Wilson nominated Louis D. Brandeis to the Supreme Court. He was a progressive reformer, and he was the first Jew to be a Supreme Court justice.


New Directions in Foreign Policy

President Wilson was an anti-imperialist and he opposed an aggressive foreign policy.

He persuaded Congress in 1914 to repeal the Panama Canal Tolls Act of 1912, which had exempted American coastal shipping from tolls.  He also signed the Jones Act in 1916, which granted the Philippines territorial status and promised independence as soon as a stable government could be established.

When political turmoil broke out in Haiti in 1915, Wilson dispatched marines to protect American lives and property.  In 1916, he signed a treaty with Haiti that provided for U.S. supervision of finances and the police.

In 1917, Wilson purchased the Virgin Islands from Denmark.


Moralistic Diplomacy in Mexico

In 1913, a Mexican revolution occurred and the Mexican president was murdered and replaced by General Victoriano Huerta. He was a brutal dictator. Because of the chaos in Mexico, millions of Spanish-speaking immigrants came to America.

President Wilson initially refused to directly intervene with the war in Mexico; he wanted the Mexican citizens to overthrow their government, themselves. After a small party of American sailors was accidentally captured by the Mexicans (Tampico Incident), Wilson ordered the navy to seize the Mexican port of Vera Cruz.

Just as war seemed imminent with Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile intervened and pressured Huerta to step down.

Venustiano Carranza became the president of Mexico.  Francisco Villa, rival to President Carranza, attempted to provoke a war between Mexico and the U.S by killing Americans.  Wilson ordered General John J. Perishing to break up Villa's band of outlaws.  The invading American army was withdrawn from Mexico in 1917 as the threat of war with Germany loomed.


Thunder Across the Sea

In 1914, World War I broke out when the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary was murdered by a Serb patriot.  An outraged Vienna government (backed by Germany) presented a series of demands to Serbia.  Serbia (backed by Russia) refused to comply.  Russia mobilized its army, causing Germany to also mobilize its army.

France initially implied that it would be neutral in the Germany-Russia conflict. But, as Germany was bordered on both sides by potential enemies, it decided to first defeat France so that it could focus on fighting Russia. The Central Powers consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria.  The Allies consisted of France, Britain, Russia, Japan, and Italy.


A Precarious Neutrality

President Wilson issued the neutrality proclamation at the outbreak of WWI.

Most Americans were anti-German from the start of the war. Americans viewed Kaiser Wilhelm II, the leader of Germany, as the embodiment of arrogant autocracy.  The majority of Americans were opposed to war.


America Earns Blood Money

American industry prospered off trade with the Allies.  The Central Powers protested American trade with the Allies, but America wasn't breaking any international neutrality laws. Germany was free to trade with the U.S., but Britain prevented this trade by controlling the Atlantic Ocean through which Germany had to cross to trade with the U.S.

In 1915, several months after Germany started to use submarines in the war (U-boats), one of Germany's submarines sunk the British ship, Lusitania, killing 128 Americans.

Americans demanded war but President Wilson firmly opposed war.  When Germany sunk another British ship, the Arabic, in 1915, Berlin agreed to not sink unarmed passenger ships without warning

After Germany sunk a French passenger steamer, the Sussex, Germany agreed to the Sussex pledge, which again said that Germany would not sink unarmed ships without warning. A German caveat to this pledge was that the U.S. would have to convince the Allies to stop their trade blockade. This was not possible, so war with Germany became imminent.


Wilson Wins the Reelection in 1916

The Progressive Party and the Republican Party met in 1916 to choose their presidential candidate.  Although nominated by the Progressives, Theodore Roosevelt refused to run for president because he didn't want to split the party again.  The Republicans chose Supreme Court justice Charles Evans Hughes.  The Republican platform condemned the Democratic tariff, assaults on the trusts, and Wilson's dealings with Mexico and Germany.

The Democrats chose Wilson and ran an anti-war campaign.  Woodrow Wilson won the election of 1916.


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